Americo Hernandez Montenegro is small in stature, a frame that could cause him to be mistaken for a jockey on the streets of Louisville, KY. However, here in Peru, Americo is a cacao producer, and a very successful one at that. His farm, which is just outside of Rioja (three hours northwest of Tarapoto), produces double the amount of cacao per hectare (2.47 acres) when compared to average production levels in the San Martín Region.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Americo at the ExpoAlimentaria event in Lima, where he traveled by air for the first time in his life! Now we were on his turf, touring the grounds of his farm and learning more about cacao.

Standing atop a large pile of what would appear to be dirt, for someone unfamiliar with farming, Americo explains his process of breaking down cacao husks and other organic matter to create compost. Despite his size, a powerful voice projects from within as he discusses farming practices he believes are critical for success. Incorporating composting and specialized pruning practices, instituted through TechnoServe’s TAPS program, is one reason his farm is so healthy and productive. It’s clear from the combination of Americo’s robust voice and empathic gestures that he’s very passionate about farming and takes immense pride in his achievements.

 

While touring the farm, we had the opportunity to learn how cacao trees are planted, pruned, fertilized, and harvested. What I found most interesting about cacao is that the fruit grows directly off the trunk and branches of the tree, rather than among the leaves. Also, unlike many fruits that grow on trees, cacao will not fall off when ripe. The stem of the fruit is quite strong, so if it’s not harvested by hand or machete it will simply stay there, eventually drying out.

One observation that hasn’t gone unnoticed is the formality, politeness, and generosity demonstrated by everyone we meet. Our hosts rarely allow us to leave without offering food or drink and the conclusion of each interaction almost always contains a few minutes of each party verbalizing their deep level of gratitude towards the other.

 

Today, Americo treated us to fresh cacao and cacao tea. Fresh cacao is eaten by opening the fruit and removing the seeds, which are surrounded by a white pulp. When consuming it in this manner you don’t actually chew the seed, but rather the pulp around the seed. It tasted like a cross between a grape and mango; quite delicious!

It was a wonderful day out in the field and definitely generated a level of excitement for me for future farm visits.

The Volunteer

Drew Mena

VP-Regional Manager, GWM Internal Sales

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